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Caf Card works at Amsterdam Avenue, 34th Street stores

Your friendly Caf Card has some new tricks up its sleeve. Along with all of the physical changes that the various dining halls have undergone, the Caf Card itself has been updated and revamped. As of October 24, a portion of each student’s Caf Card balance can be used in select local restaurants. On the Wilf Campus, this includes Golan Heights, Chop Chop, and Lake Como Pizza; on the Beren Campus, students can swipe their cards at Tiberias, Mendy’s, and Eden Wok.

The system works fairly simply. $250 from each Caf Card has been allocated toward purchases from the aforementioned establishments. This was done without notifying the student body, a move that caused some alarm as card balances plummeted overnight. Students can spend all of the $250 at the off-campus options, but once that is used up, no more money from the Caf Card can be spent at the local restaurants. Still, if a student runs his regular dining balance down to $0, his card will automatically begin to draw from the $250 (or what remains of it), until the balance runs down completely.

The idea for these changes is not new. A YU faculty member said that “they’ve been talking about this since 1999.” Most recently, talks between area restaurants and food services began somewhere in the beginning of 2011. The program was supposed to begin at the start of the semester, and was even up and running for the first few days until the system in one of the restaurants broke. In order to fix this problem, all of the other restaurants had to shut down their systems, prompting the delayed start.

Most of the restaurants that were included expressed fairly positive feelings about the new program. Lake Como Pizza, which was among the restaurants that accepted Caf Cards during those first few days, said they saw a significant increase in business, so that even though YU Food Services takes 15%, it was still worth their while to be a part of the program. Golan was equally optimistic about the new program, saying that it provided “more options for students,” though they warned that prices for those paying with a Caf Card may be higher. The reason given for the potential increase was the fact that payment would be delayed as students were no longer paying in cash; however, they made no mention of YU’s 15% share. Chop Chop was more ambivalent about being included in the off-campus dining options. The manager said that being a part of the program was part of their “try[ing] to contribute to YU,” and that they were “okay with it,” but was clearly not overly excited.

Conspicuously absent from the list of Caf Card-approved eateries are the only other kosher stores in the vicinity, Grandma’s and Just Kosher. According to the manager of Grandma’s, at the beginning of the year, as soon as they heard that Golan was accepting Caf Cards, they called YU to try to join the list of approved restaurants. Their numerous calls however, were not returned. Grandma’s says that they “don’t have any problem” being part of the program, and in fact even have the system in place to take Caf Cards—all they need is the approval codes from YU. The manager of Grandma’s seemed confident that students will push to have them included, and that Grandma’s will be able to accept Caf Cards soon.

Just Kosher, on the other hand, never tried to be included. “They didn’t ask, so I didn’t ask,” said its manager. He added that they get asked “hundreds of times” by students if they accept Caf Cards, and that they would be happy to join the program if approached by YU.

Students’ reactions to this system have been mostly positive. Talya Laufer (SCW ’13) noted that “I often miss dinner in the Caf, so this means I won’t have to spend my own money. That’s the number one thing for me.” Others were grateful for the alternative it provided, but wondered why it was only being implemented in the middle of the semester. Adam Zimilover (YC ’13) said, “I’m happy that the option exists, but wish that they could have gotten their act together before school started.” Mark Glass (YC ’13) waxed poetic about the new system, observing that “it’s an exciting time for students at YU. We’re no longer chained to the drudgery that is the Caf.” He did voice concern for the lack of healthy options though, as in his mind this was just “swapping the grease of the Caf for the grease of Golan.”